More than a few prognosticators have predicted in recent years that sometime soon going to see movies in theaters is going to be a thing of the past, and watching movies at home is going to be the standard of the future. Half of that viewpoint stems from the problems moviegoers have with poorly projected films and unruly patrons ruining their multiplex experiences, and the other half comes from the conveniences of having gigantic HD screens and digital content delivery available right in our homes. What sane person wants to pay theater prices to leave their house and have their movie interrupted by someone else’s cellphone when they can stay at home and watch the industry’s latest in crystal clear clarity, right from the comfort of the butt groove they’ve worked so hard to wear into their couch?
Well, people who really love movies and the communal nature of moviegoing might, and there are a number of strategies that theaters can probably take to maintain their relevance moving ahead into the future, but let’s not jump into that argument today. Instead, let’s think about those ultra-fancy, ultra-convenient home theaters of the future, and try to get an idea of what they might eventually look like, thanks to recent innovations from two companies who are working hard to make sure that their offerings become staples of your future entertainment diet—Samsung and Netflix.
First off, the Samsung news. Today they officially unveiled a new, outrageously large 110 inch 4K Ultra HD television that’s pretty much the dream TV of every film fan in the world who has a spacious living room. This new TV isn’t exactly the sort of thing that’s ready to go into mass production, mind you. As of now the thing is priced somewhere around $152,000, it currently seems to only be for sale to people in South Korea, China, and a select few rich elite in the Middle East, and it’s generally just too much display for anyone with reasonable needs. That’s a situation that could soon change though.
Not only are there plans to push this ultra-huge, ultra-high resolution television out to Europe and the United States soon, but Variety has published an article opining that this new offering from Samsung could be just the sort of thing that kicks off a trend where massive, 4K televisions start to come down in price and start to become desirable to average Joes, which would clearly give consumers even less reason to want to leave their houses and watch things on the now not-so-impressively-big screens of the theater chains.
This next generation of huge TVs are going to be a greater threat to theater owners than the current generation not just because of their size, and not just because the 4K technology rivals the clarity of their digital projectors though, they’re also going to be extra-dangerous because they’ll be seamlessly integrated with all of those streaming content services that everyone is hooked on these days, like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus—services who are already experimenting with offering up 4K quality content over our current data connections.
Which brings us to the move Netflix made today. In a strategy completely in opposition to this future vision of huge displays and 4K resolutions, Variety is also reporting that Netflix has started to dabble with a cheaper streaming service than the one they currently offer—one that doesn’t cost as much because it only offers up their content at lower resolutions. The new package, which is being offered up to select users, will cost $6.99 a month (a buck lower than their current streaming package), and will provide customers with standard definition content that can only be played on one device at a time (the current plan allows streaming on two devices at once).
While Netflix chief communications officer, Jonathan Friedland, warns, “We always are testing new things,” and “it (the new package) may not be something we ever offer generally,” it’s not hard to see why Netflix would want to dabble with courting budget customers. Watching movies on discs has always been a higher quality and more reliable experience than streaming, and it allows the consumer to have greater control over what they have access to, but Netflix’s streaming service became popular in the first place because it was more affordable and more convenient than the traditional, brick and mortar video rental experience. It makes sense to see if there’s another tier of consumers that would also be willing to become Netflix subscribers, if only their service were a touch more affordable. How many norms out there are really all that discerning when it comes to a thing like quality of image anyway?
These two moves from Samsung and Netflix happening concurrently makes one wonder what the future of watching movies at home is going to look like. Clearly all of the players are going to be doing whatever they can to get the largest piece of the pie when it comes to our entertainment dollars, and clearly a large amount of that potential income will have to come from customers that they lure away from the multiplexes, but what is going to be the approach that has the most potential to make people stay home and settle for microwave popcorn?
Is the best method of killing movie theaters the one that Samsung is taking, where high-end equipment recreates the experience of seeing a movie in a theater so thoroughly in your living room that the theater becomes obsolete, or is it Netflix’s approach of giving movie fans as much content as cheaply and conveniently as possible, thus allowing their entertainment cups to constantly overfloweth and making trips to the theater something that they never even really consider?
For people who like movies as much as we do, the answer is clearly going to be those huge Samsung TVs that are going to take up entire walls in our houses (or, more accurately, we’ll probably never quit going to theaters entirely at all), but for the vast majority of the mainstream, low prices might win the day. The popularity of something like Redbox proves that most people don’t even much care what they’re watching, so long as it’s cheap and so long as it’s easy. Could it be that the future of movies is budget consumers streaming a constant flow of low quality material to whatever minuscule tablet or phablet they happen to have laying around? For film geeks, that reality seems inconceivable (!), but we’re not really the types who always have our fingers on the pulse of what Middle America is in the market for, are we?
Regardless, I can’t wait until manufacturing costs get low enough that I can afford one of those amazing TVs. And if they release one that also makes theater-quality popcorn, I’d even be willing to shell out extra.